Dog - Encouraging Good Manners and Obedience

For any social group to function properly, rules and boundaries need to be established and maintained. This does not involve the use of force but rather the consistent application of boundaries which leads to the formation of realistic expectations.

As with people, when dogs understand these rules and boundaries through their consistent application, they are likely to feel less anxious and more relaxed. Having a dog that obeys the house rules also makes life simpler and more pleasant. Having a dog that listens to you and is obedient means that he is safe in public places and is unlikely to inconvenience strangers or put the public at risk.

How do I teach good manners?

  1. The first rule for owners regarding teaching good manners to dogs involves consistency. Human family members need to agree on the house rules for their particular situation so that everyone can enforce them at all times. A dog that may sometimes be allowed on the furniture and sometimes not, is sometimes fed from the table and is sometimes shouted at for begging, can become confused and anxious.
  2. It is also important to remember that most dogs will need to come into contact with the public at certain times and calm, self controlled behaviour around strangers (such as not jumping up on people) should therefore also be taught.
  3. One of the easiest ways of instilling control, in and out of the home is to teach your dog to ask politely or "say please" for things that he wants. This helps to establish realistic expectations for your dog and reduces the risk of confusion later in your relationship. The easiest way of doing this it to teach him to sit for everything that he wants:
  • Once your dog has learnt to sit on a command word, ask for this action every time you have something of value to offer him. For example, before he eats, before you hand him a treat or a chew, before he has his lead put on for a walk, before he goes through a doorway (this is also valuable as it gives you a chance to stop him from bolting through a doorway, which could be dangerous), and before you give him attention.
  • Soon you will see that sitting becomes a default behaviour whenever he wants something.
  • You can immediately see how much more pleasant it is for people to have a dog sitting quietly in front of them when it would like to be greeted or to be fed, rather than a dog that is leaping around in a demanding manner.

What if my dog doesn’t listen to me?

If you are already experiencing problems with a dog who is very demanding or tends not to listen to you, it may be necessary to go back a stage and work on compliance with some simple commands (such as sit, down and stay) in relaxed contexts where there is no particular desired outcome for you or your dog. Remember that your dog does not understand English, or any other language, and before you can expect compliance with commands you need to be sure that your dog has correctly associated the word you are using with the action that you are expecting him to perform.

Some dogs will learn to use the "sit" as a means of demanding some form of interaction, in a similar way to the toddler who thinks that the word "please" is a magical way of always getting exactly what he wants! If your dog sits automatically but doesn’t otherwise listen to you, then teach a range of behaviours, such as lie down and stay. Vary which of these you require before the resource is made available to your dog.

Despite what you might read in the popular press establishing realisitic expectations for your dog is not about dominance. It is simply about establishing manners which allow your dog to function successfully in society. Having a dog that listens to you is important, for his and the public’s safety. For dogs that find the whole world exciting and therefore can find their own amusement, learning to listen to you because it pays off for them is a very valuable skill.

In some situations where owners feel that their dog is not listening to them they may be advised to withhold access to desired items or activities at all times except during training. However, there are risks associated with this approach and it should be remembered that it could be stressful for your dog suddenly to have all his toys removed, for example. If you are experiencing difficulties with your dog not listening to you it is best to seek some professional assistance earlier rather than later and your veterinary practice should be able to advise you.

What if he knows what to do but ignores me?

The first thing to establish is whether your dog really does know what you are asking him to do. If he does not understand the command then simply repeating it at louder and louder volumes will never be successful.

behaviour_harness_h3_no_caption_72If you are certain that the labelling process has been successful and your dog knows what the word means then it is important to react to non-compliance by withholding the reward that is on offer (rather than punishing your dog). For example, if you are trying to go for a walk, but your dog will not sit when requested before going through the door (and he has learnt the behaviour and knows it well), ask him to sit once. If he has not sat down within a reasonable period (5-10 seconds possibly) walk away from the door. Wait about a minute and then try again. If your dog knows you will always repeat your request immediately, he has no reason to listen to you the first time. You have to teach him that he gets one chance to obey, otherwise he will have to wait.

A word of caution

  • If the environment is simply too distracting or stimulating for your dog to listen to you, then you cannot expect obedience until he has learnt to be able to focus in the presence of those distractions.
  • It is therefore always important to first teach an action in a distraction free environment and gradually accustom him to listening in ever more distracting situations.

Most dogs are not willfully disobedient, so if your dog is not obeying you, you need to try to look for the reason. Again, if you need assistance do not be afraid to ask your veterinary practice for referral to someone experienced in the field.

Used and/or modified with permission under license. ©Lifelearn, The Penguin House, Castle Riggs, Dunfermline FY11 8SG


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